Friday, September 28, 2012

FEMA trailer lawsuit settled for $42.6 million

David Friedman / NBC News

File photo shows a FEMA trailer park near Highway 90 in Bay St. Louis, Miss., in 2007.

By Mike Brunker
NBC News

More than six years after Gulf Coast victims of Hurricane Katrina began experiencing adverse health effects while living in travel trailers provided by the federal government for temporary housing, a federal judge in New Orleans has given his final approval to a $42.6 million settlement of a class-action lawsuit alleging that the units emitted hazardous levels of the toxic chemical formaldehyde.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt approved the deal Thursday after hearing from attorneys who brokered the agreement between the plaintiffs and more than two dozen manufacturers of mobile homes provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

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Roughly 55,000 residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas will be eligible for shares of $37.5 million paid by more than two dozen manufacturers, the Associated Press reported. They also can get shares of a separate $5.1 million settlement with FEMA contractors that installed and maintained the units.

Dan Balhoff, a court-appointed special master, will determine the plaintiffs' awards, the AP said. Up to 48 percent of the total settlement money – or approximately $20,5 million -- will be deducted for attorneys' fees and costs, it said. Assuming the remainder is divided equally among 55,000 plaintiffs, the plaintiffs would receive about $4,020 apiece.

Payments are expected to go out late this year or early next year, the AP said.

Engelhardt presided over three trials for claims against FEMA trailer manufacturers and installers after he was picked in 2007 to oversee hundreds of consolidated lawsuits. The juries in all three trials sided with the companies and didn't award any damages.

As (now first reported in July 2006, residents of the trailers began complaining of headaches, nosebleeds and breathing difficulty shortly after moving into the trailers, which were trucked to the Gulf Coast by the tens of thousands after Katrina and Rita devastated the area in rapid succession in 2005.

Air quality tests of 44 FEMA trailers in early 2006 conducted by the Sierra Club found formaldehyde concentrations as high as 0.34 parts per million – a level nearly equal to what a professional embalmer would be exposed to on the job, according to one study of the chemical’s workplace effects.

And government tests on hundreds of trailers in Louisiana and Mississippi announced in 2008 found formaldehyde levels that were, on average, about five times what people are exposed to in most modern homes. 

FEMA, which isn't a party to the settlements, had long downplayed the health risks from formaldehyde exposure before those test results were announced.

It eventually began auctioning off the units as “scrap” — meaning they should not be used for human habitation — in October 2008, but some unscrupulous buyers apparently were able to dodge regulations and return them to the housing pool. 

Formaldehyde gas -- the airborne form of a chemical used in a wide variety of products, including composite wood and plywood panels in the travel trailers that FEMA purchased to house hurricane victims -- is considered a human carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, by the International Agency for Research on Cancer and a probable human carcinogen by the EPA.

Gerald Meunier, a lead plaintiffs' attorney, told the AP that the deal provides residents with "somewhat modest" compensation but allows both sides to avoid the expense and risks of protracted litigation.

"Dollar amounts alone do not determine whether a settlement is fair and reasonable," he said.

Jim Percy, a lawyer for the trailer makers, said Engelhardt would have had to try cases individually or transfer suits to other jurisdictions if the settlement wasn't reached.

"It was not going to end quickly, and it was going to be even more monumental for all the parties concerned," he said.

But that doesn't mean the deal isn't a disappointment for many residents who blame their illnesses on the cramped trailers they occupied for months on end.

"We were told not to look for much," said Anthony Dixon, a New Orleans resident who says he developed asthma while living in a FEMA trailer for two years.

Dixon, 58, attended the hearing with his wife and mother to learn more about the deal.

"We're glad to get it over with," he added.

Engelhardt noted he received a letter from a woman whose 66-year-old mother, Agnes Mauldin, of Mississippi, died of leukemia in 2008 after living in a FEMA trailer. Mauldin's daughter, Lydia Greenlees, said the settlement offers "very little" for what her family considers to be a wrongful death case.

"I am saddened about the settlement in that I feel like it makes a mockery of my mother's life," Greenlees wrote. "I don't want anyone to think for one second that I view this settlement as a fair trade for my mother's life. I do not."

A group of companies that includes Gulf Stream Coach Inc., Forest River Inc., Vanguard LLC and Monaco Coach Corp. will pay $20 million of the $37.5 million settlement with the trailer makers.

Shaw Environmental Inc., Bechtel Corp., Fluor Enterprises Inc. and CH2M Hill Constructors Inc. are among the FEMA contractors that agreed to pay shares of the separate $5.1 million settlement.

Only a handful of formaldehyde-related claims are still pending, including some against FEMA by a group of Texas residents.

Mike Brunker is the projects editor for; the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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Judge halts execution of man who killed alleged abuser

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By MaryClaire Dale,

A Philadelphia judge has halted Wednesday's scheduled execution of death-row inmate Terrance "Terry" Williams and granted him a new sentencing hearing.
Judge M. Teresa Sarmina said Friday prosecutors suppressed evidence that Williams' victim was an alleged pedophile who abused boys, including Williams.
However, Sarmina upheld Williams' first-degree murder conviction.


Terrance Williams is shown in this undated Pennsylvania Department of Corrections' photo.

Related: Penn. board rejects clemency in murder case, execution still planned
Related: Widow asks Pennsylvania governor not to execute husband's killer

Williams' lawyers say police and prosecutors withheld evidence about the sexual link between him and victim Amos Norwood, so the jury never heard about it before voting for a death sentence. 
Philadelphia prosecutors deny any wrongdoing in the 1986 trial.
Williams would be the first person executed involuntarily in Pennsylvania since 1962. 

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Marine-turned-country star sings about PTSD

By Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor

Everything you see in the music video happened to Marine-turned-country-singer Stephen Cochran: Pushing the girl away, boozing into oblivion, the gun on the blanket. It all went down last year. 

Courtesy of Stephen Cochran

Stephen Cochran, a former Marine recon scout and now a country-music singer, has penned a new song about PTSD - combat-related symptoms that almost claimed his life in 2011.

Even the actor who portrays Cochran is, himself, a former Marine and Iraq veteran who knows of post-traumatic stress, who has wrangled with identical demons. The actor was not acting.

The only on-screen tweak from reality was the type firearm shown. In his dimmest hour, behind a locked door in his Nashville home, exhausted, alone, and telling himself: “I’m done,” Cochran rested a loaded shotgun against his bed.

“I was just trying to get the nerve. I had it planned out,” Cochran told NBC News. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I was tired of taking all these pills. I was going through a breakup. Couldn’t write anymore. Watching everything fall apart. I was ready to check out.”

Then: salvation, and a surreal rescue scene worthy of an epic ballad. His dog, Semper Fi, began scratching relentlessly at his door, bloodying her paws. Next, Cochran’s ex-fiancé unexpectedly entered the house, simply to retrieve a forgotten item, he said. She saw the anxious dog. She expected the worst. She barged into the bedroom, spotted the gun and physically restrained Cochran. 

But from anguish came inspiration. Amid an existence long blurred by PTSD — the residue of Afghanistan firefights, Marine buddies lost in combat, and his own nearly fatal injury — one question blazed in Cochran's head. He jotted it down: “How do you paint a picture back in focus?”

“It was the only way I could describe trying to put your life back together, literally trying to do the impossible,” he said.

Around that single thought, Cochran penned an entire song, “Pieces,”an ode to the blackness from which he was aching to escape, a tale of reconnecting the scattered fragments of his shattered world, and a message of solidarity for his military brothers and sisters. The single — part of a CD with the same title — will be released in this country on Nov. 11. The song already has charted in Europe.

“It’s not just my story. So many of us think about (suicide) because you just get so tired, so tired of being the crazy guy. Or of hearing: ‘He’s weird.’ Or of hearing: ‘We can’t hire you because we really don’t know what post-traumatic stress is and you might come back and kill us all.’

“I really wrote it as my own healing, for what I was going through,” added Cochran, 33, who teamed with fellow musician Trevor Rosen to complete the song. It took them only 15 minutes.

But after playing it at several veterans’ benefits, Cochran heard from service members up and down the chain of command how they, too, connected with the lyrics. That feedback has turned “Pieces” into the soundtrack of the singer’s ongoing crusade.

“We have an epidemic of suicides in the military right now. At this point, we are physically losing both of these wars in the United States of America, not overseas.

“If we want to stop our suicides, we need a complete overhaul in our ‘warrior’ terminology in this country, in the way we train our families (how to relate with homecoming veterans). That’s what I want to start with ‘Pieces,’ and the video. I want to get a bridge between our civilian population and the veterans. And I want to reach into the rooms of some of these guys and girls — who are just sitting in the dark and watching TV all day like I did — and let them know: You’re not alone.”

Perhaps the most ironic thread of Cochran’s story coils back to the days of his first, true musical success. In 2007, one year after retiring from the Marines, he scored a country hit with “Friday Night Fireside,” the culmination of a childhood dream for a guy raised in Nashville. The accompanying video was voted No. 1 by Great American Country fans for five straight weeks.

courtesy of Stephen Cochran

After his the light-armoured vehicle crashed in Afghanistan, Stephen Cochran fractured vertebrae and suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2004. Told he would never walk again, an experimental procedure by VA surgeons restored his steps.

Two years later, Cochran became the national spokesman for research and development at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — his thank you for a successful, experimental surgery performed by VA surgeons who repaired his broken back. In 2004, Cochran had splintered several lumbar vertebrae when the vehicle in which he was riding through southern Afghanistan slammed into gaping hole that once held an anti-tank mine. He couldn’t feel or move his legs for months, and was told by doctors that he’d never take steps again. He walked.

The former Marine reconnaissance scout, part of the U.S. force that first knocked the Taliban out of Afghanistan’s Helmand Province, next teamed up with the VA to become its national co-chair for voluntary service. In that role, Cochran toured America, urging veterans to seek help for combat stress, “to let them know you don’t have to suffer in silence,” recalled Rosetta Fisher-Oliver, the VA’s chief of voluntary service for Tennessee and for parts of Kentucky and Georgia.

In 2011, Cochran recorded the music video “Hope” for the VA to try and cement his get-help pleas to fellow troops. What few knew: Cochran was losing his own hope.

“We worked on that video together, and the week he was supposed to make the video, I tried to get in touch with him, just to check to see that he was going to be on time,” said Fisher-Oliver.

She was unable to reach him, however, because Cochran was by then seeking treatment — after reaching the brink of suicide in his bedroom.

“Here’s a person who’s trying to get the message out and he’s still struggling with issues too,” she said. “He later told me: ‘I almost wasn’t here.’ ”

Cochran now acknowledges that he carried “almost dual personalities” during that time. In front of fellow veterans and fans, he sang, smiled, shook hands and signed autographs. “But I also had to deal with this monster I have inside my head and inside my gut, all day.” At home, his family and his then-fiancé, he admitted, took the brunt of his mood swings and emotional detachment.

courtesy of Stephen Cochran

After breaking his back in Afghanistan, Cochran was greeted by a fellow Marine. He later regained the ability to walk.

“You’re screaming out: Please help me understand what I’m going through, because I have no clue! That’s why you see the high number of divorces in the military,” Cochran said. “I told my fiancé: ‘I don’t know what I’m dealing with so the best thing for you to do is just leave and you’ll thank me later.' ”

She left.

But in what could have been Cochran’s final minutes, she came back, and burst into his bedroom.

After Cochran artfully turned that horrid moment into a song, he met the man picked to portray his downward spiral in the “Pieces” video: Daniel Dean, a Nashville songwriter and actor. He also looks a bit like Cochran. He seemed like a logical choice.

In talking with Dean, though, Cochran learned that the man was a Marine sniper who did three tours in Iraq. And they both had lived for years with the lingering anxieties that often remain for veterans who log months of combat exposure.

“He told me: 'This is my story, too,'” Cochran remembers. “That dude lived that.”

They also agreed with the concept that “Pieces” would be not just the first music video to delve so deeply into PTSD. It would break ranks with dozens of other standard, country-music videos about the U.S. military — mini movies that often include battle scenes that, some critics say, glorify war.

“Stephen does country music and so do I, and there’s a lot of military songs and a lot of them are pretty much B.S.” Dean said. “You’ve got the Toby Keith type stuff and that’s all right for what it is. But very rarely does a song hit a military person the way this one does.

“Just because it’s real. It’s one of the things I doubt you’ll hear any of the other country stars singing about. It’s (usually) more of the patriotic angle. Most military members aren’t songwriters like Stephen and I. So, I guess rhat lets us be able to sing things that you can’t say or can't deal with.” 

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DA won't pursue case against prof in brother's death

Huntsville Times/AP

Amy Bishop is escorted by sheriff's deputies at the Madison County Courthouse in Hunstville, Ala., on Sept. 11.

By NBC News staff and wire services

Amy Bishop, the biology professor sentenced to life in prison earlier this week for killing three colleagues, will not be prosecuted for murdering her brother in 1986, the Massachusetts district attorney looking at that case said Friday, according to the Boston Globe.

Bishop’s fatal shooting of her younger brother Seth at the family’s home in Braintree, Mass. was dismissed as an accident at the time. But the February 2010 shooting spree that left three of her colleagues dead and three others wounded at the University of Alabama at Huntsville sparked an inquest into Seth Bishop’s death, which was then reopened as a homicide case.

Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey said in a statement Friday that his office would not pursue the first-degree murder charge against Bishop because she is now scheduled to end her life behind bars.

"We will not move to have her returned to Massachusetts," Morrissey said, according to the Globe report. "The penalty we would seek for a first-degree murder conviction is already in place."

The Harvard-educated biologist opened fire at a faculty meeting in February 2010.

Bishop killed her boss, biology department chairman Gopi Padila, plus professors Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel Johnson. Professor Joseph Leahy, staff aide Stephanie Monticciolo and assistant professor Luis Cruz-Vera were wounded.

Colleagues believed Bishop was angry that the school had denied her tenure.

On Sept. 11, Bishop pleaded guilty to first-degree murder charges. By doing so, she avoided a possible death sentence but was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Morrissey said that after talking to his counterpart in Alabama, Madison County District Attorney Robert Broussard, he felt confident that Bishop would never be released from custody, the Globe reported.

His office was planning to file what is known as a "nolle prosequi" next week, which would allow prosecutors to revive the first-degree murder charge against her "if circumstances change," it said.

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Lawsuit: Pentagon denied rape victims their rights

By Jeff Black, NBC News

Nineteen veterans and active-duty service members from the Army and Air Force allege in a new lawsuit filed Friday that they were sexually assaulted while in the military and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other leaders denied them their constitutional rights of due process after reporting the crimes.

The suit seeks monetary damages, though no precise figure was named. It is the fifth lawsuit of its kind filed by Susan Burke, a Washington, D.C.-based attorney.

The 15 women and four men named in the suit were all retaliated against after reporting rapes and were denied the right to have their cases heard by an impartial party, Burke said. In the military, senior commanders are in charge of determining whether reported sexual assaults will be referred to military courts.

Related: Victims of sexual assault in military say brass often ignore pleas for justice

“Anyone who has looked closely at these types of cases knows that we have a disgraceful system,” Burke told NBC News. “It is controlled by the chain of command. These rape survivors were all denied entry into a court system, and they were retaliated against.”

While each case has different facts on the time and place of the assault, they demonstrate a pattern of a systematic failure of leadership and oversight, Burke said, explaining why Panetta is named in the suit.

The lawsuit filed Friday comes on the heels of a rare case of an Army general being charged with sexual assault and a scandal at Lackland Air Base in San Antonio, Texas, in which at least in which at least a dozen military instructors are accused of sexually assaulting young female recruits.

Related: Army general accused of sex misconduct

Army Brig. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sinclair, who has served 27 years, including tours of Afghanistan and Iraq, on Wednesday was charged with forced sex on a subordinate and other offenses. He was relieved of his duty in May and recalled to Fort Bragg, N.C., where the charges were referred to military investigators.

Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., joined a news conference in San Francisco announcing the new lawsuit.

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In November 2011, Speier introduced legislation in Congress to reform the military justice system and the way it handles cases of rape and sexual assault. H.R. 3435, the Sexual Assault Training and Oversight Prevention Act (STOP Act), would create an impartial office made up of civilian and military experts within the military to review cases of rape and sexual assault. The bill has 133 bipartisan cosponsors.

For his part, Panetta has moved to change how sexual assaults are reported and dealt with inside the armed forces. In April, he issued new policies requiring that more senior commanders handle sexual assault complaints. And on Tuesday he ordered all military branches to improve the quality of sexual assault prevention and training.

However, Burke, and activists claim those moves fall short.

"This has been going on for years," Burke said. "Clearly, keeping these cases inside the military system isn't working."   

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Chicago Mayor Emanual promises no new taxes, fines or fees in next budget - @chicagotribune

Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday he will not increase taxes, fines or fees in next year's budget but will rely on unspecified spending cuts and better tax collections from an improved economy to close an estimated $298 million shortfall.

“No new taxes, fines and fees,” Emanuel said in a telephone interview with the Tribune. He also ruled out closing any tax loopholes or extending tax collections to additional services, with one exception: an increase in parking meter rates set in motion long before he took office.

Last year, the mayor promised no major tax increases, but his budget did increase the price of vehicle stickers, boost the hotel tax rate and launch a series of increases that will more than double city water and sewer fees over a four-year period. He also increased a host of fines and other fees.

Emanuel said there would be no increases like those in his next budget proposal, which he is set to deliver on Oct. 10. “No, there’s no kind of hidden game on that,” he said.

But the mayor declined to specify precisely how he would bridge the nearly $300 million gap. Aides said the budget would not rely on “one-time gimmicks” or result in reduced city services.

“There will be some combination of departments, there will be some innovations, some (managed) competition,” Emanuel said, referring to the program in which city and private-sector workers compete to deliver services. “So there’s a series of things — reforms, cuts, changes — that are going to allow us to bridge that gap and bridge that $298 million hole.”

He said the city also expects to save more money next year through continuing efforts to collect past-due city debts, completely converting garbage collection to the less-expensive grid system and moving other services to the grid system. The city also will continue to trim health care costs, Emanuel said, in part through a recently launched wellness program for city employees and by reducing fraudulent health claims.

This year, a slightly better economy has improved hotel, real estate transfer and sales tax collections, and those trends are expected to continue, easing the pressure next year, Emanuel said.

Although the mayor may be able to hold the line on city property taxes, the recently passed Chicago Public Schools budget will boost the average residential property tax bill by $28. It’s going to be tough to avoid similar increases in coming years, with annual $74 million increases built into the tentative new teachers contract.

Most city homes and businesses also will continue to see their water and sewer bills rise, with the extra revenue dedicated to updating the city’s aging water and sewer lines.

The mayor spoke to the Tribune hours after holding a second tightly-controlled round table discussion on the budget. By contrast, former Mayor Richard Daley would hold annual public budget forums, spending hours fielding sometimes eccentric ideas from Chicagoans on everything from cutting costs to ending basement flooding.

Emanuel met with one group Thursday at a meeting convened by the non-profit organization Metropolitan Family Services, whose CEO was on his transition team. The mayor was to meet with a group of Hispanic business owners late Friday to talk about the budget at a sit-down organized by City Council ally Ald. Daniel Solis, 25th.

“We will have about three or four more of those,” Emanuel said Friday before the second round table.

The mayor also has said he plans to eliminate the so-called head tax of $2 per month on employees at larger businesses, but not until Dec. 31, 2013.

Tribune reporter John Byrne contributed
Twitter @ReporterHal

Widespread power outages and 75mph gusts reported on Okinawa as Typhoon Jelawat nears - @starsandstripes

9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 29, Japan time: Whoo-wee, it’s getting BAD out there, gang. Already, we’re hearing of widespread power outages, debris being blown hither and thither as if carried away in a riptide. Gad, I sure hope everybody’s playing it safe and cuddling close indoors away from that mess.

We’re not in three-figure winds (yet), though Kadena Air Base has already reported 58-mph sustained winds with 75-mph gusts. Max felt on the island, 98-mph gusts down south where Typhoon Jelawat is unleashing its beastly fury. The worst is yet to come, I’m afraid.

Latest forecast wind timeline from Kadena’s 18th Wing Weather Flight:

-- Maximum 115-mph sustained winds, 138-mph gusts, 11 a.m. Saturday.
-- Winds diminishing below 58 mph, 6 p.m. Saturday.
-- Winds diminishing below 40 mph, 9 p.m. Saturday.
-- Winds diminishing below 35 mph, 3 a.m. Sunday.

Again, a reminder for those hoping to flee the lockdown when the winds die down: When Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness 1-R (recovery) is declared, that is NOT the time to go out. Assessment teams fan out at that point to survey damage, flooding, downed power lines and tree limbs, etc. Best to stay indoors until TCCOR Storm Watch is declared. Always report whatever damage you may come upon to your local civil engineers.


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Flash flood watch issued for west Texas through Saturday - @usNWSgov

An upper level trough will move across Southeast New Mexico and West Texas today and Saturday.  Numerous showers and thunderstorms will develop as strong southeast low level flow entrains moist Gulf of Mexico into the region and upper level moisture increases from Tropical Cyclone Miriam in the Pacific.  With abundant moisture in place, periods of heavy rainfall can be expected. This may lead to flash flooding in low-lying areas. A flash flood watch is in effect for portions of West Texas through Saturday.
Below is an image from the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) highlighting the reason for the heavy rain.

Below is an image from the Hydrometeorological Prediction Center (HPC) showing possible rainfall totals over the next 3 days.

Follow these safety rules:

  • Monitor the NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, or your favorite news source for vital weather related information.
  • If flooding occurs, get to higher ground. Get out of areas subject to flooding. This includes dips, low spots, canyons, washes etc.
  • Avoid areas already flooded, especially if the water is flowing fast. Do not attempt to cross flowing streams. Turn Around Don't Drown
  • Road beds may be washed out under flood waters. NEVER drive through flooded roadways. Turn Around Don't Drown
  • Do not camp or park your vehicle along streams and washes, particularly during threatening conditions.
  • Be especially cautious at night when it is harder to recognize flood dangers.

Amber Alert issued for two missing Tennessee children.

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U.S. intel revises Libyan account

A desk inside the burnt U.S. Consulate building in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday, September 13, two days after an attack on the building in which the U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. nationals were killed. The attack came as protesters outside the compound rallied against a movie that unflatteringly portrays Islam's Prophet Mohammed. <a href='' target='_blank'>Photos: Protesters storm U.S. Embassy buildings</a>A desk inside the burnt U.S. Consulate building in Benghazi, Libya, on Thursday, September 13, two days after an attack on the building in which the U.S. ambassador and three other U.S. nationals were killed. The attack came as protesters outside the compound rallied against a movie that unflatteringly portrays Islam's Prophet Mohammed. Photos: Protesters storm U.S. Embassy buildings
The damage inside the burnt U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Thursday.The damage inside the burnt U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Thursday.
A lounge chair and umbrella float in the swimming pool of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Thursday.A lounge chair and umbrella float in the swimming pool of the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Thursday.
Demonstrators on Wednesday, September 12, gather in Libya to condemn the killers and voice support for the victims in the attack on the U.S. Consulate. Demonstrators on Wednesday, September 12, gather in Libya to condemn the killers and voice support for the victims in the attack on the U.S. Consulate.
U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Rose Garden at the White House on Wednesday in Washington. U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Rose Garden at the White House on Wednesday in Washington.
A burnt vehicle is seen at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Wednesday. A burnt vehicle is seen at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Wednesday.
People inspect the damage at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Wednesday.People inspect the damage at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, on Wednesday.
A small American flag is seen in the rubble at the U.S. Consulate on Wednesday.A small American flag is seen in the rubble at the U.S. Consulate on Wednesday.
President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stand at Andrews Air Force Base as the bodies of the four Americans killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi are returned.President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stand at Andrews Air Force Base as the bodies of the four Americans killed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi are returned.
A man stands in part of the burned-out compound Wednesday. A man stands in part of the burned-out compound Wednesday.
Smoke and fire damage is evident in this consulate building.Smoke and fire damage is evident in this consulate building.
Half-burnt debris and ash cover the floor of one of the consulate buildings.Half-burnt debris and ash cover the floor of one of the consulate buildings.
The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames Tuesday, September 11.The U.S. Consulate in Benghazi is seen in flames Tuesday, September 11.
A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi burns Tuesday night. A protester reacts as the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi burns Tuesday night.
A vehicle and the surrounding area are engulfed in flames after it was set on fire inside the compound Tuesday.A vehicle and the surrounding area are engulfed in flames after it was set on fire inside the compound Tuesday.
Flames erupt outside of a building in the U.S. consulate compound on Tuesday.Flames erupt outside of a building in the U.S. consulate compound on Tuesday.
A vehicle burns during the attack Tuesday on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.A vehicle burns during the attack Tuesday on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi.
Onlookers record the damage from the attack on Tuesday.Onlookers record the damage from the attack on Tuesday.
Onlookers walk past a burning truck and building in the compound on Tuesday.Onlookers walk past a burning truck and building in the compound on Tuesday.
A vehicle sits smoldering in flames on Tuesday.A vehicle sits smoldering in flames on Tuesday.
People duck flames outside a consulate building on Tuesday. <a href=''>Photos: Protesters storm U.S. Embassy buildings</a>People duck flames outside a consulate building on Tuesday. Photos: Protesters storm U.S. Embassy buildings
  • NEW: Rep. Peter King calls for U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to resign
  • NEW: Rice had described the attack as arising from a protest
  • NEW: She provided the best information available at the time, a spokeswoman says
  • Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others died in the September 11 attack

Washington (CNN) -- The U.S. intelligence community has revised its assessment of the deadly attack on the American consulate in Libya, saying it now believes it was a deliberate terrorist assault.

In an unusual statement on Friday, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence sought to explain how it has revised its view of the September 11 attack on the diplomatic post that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others.

The assessment moves away from the initial belief the attack began spontaneously following a protest over an anti-Muslim film. The intelligence community now believes it was "a deliberate and organized terrorist assault carried out by extremists" affiliated or sympathetic with al Qaeda.

The statement represents the fullest accounting yet of the intelligence community's changed understanding of the attack, and suggests it is trying to distance itself from the political debate over whether the Obama administration is being fully forthcoming about its understanding of events.

The release of such information outlining an ongoing investigation is rare and underscores just how controversial the issue has become.

"In the immediate aftermath, there was information that led us to assess that the attack began spontaneously following protests earlier that day at our embassy in Cairo," according to the statement from Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for the national intelligence office.

The statement continues that the information was provided to the White House and Congress with the clear understanding it was preliminary and could change.

"We provided that initial assessment to executive branch officials and members of Congress, who used that information to discuss the attack publicly and provide updates as they became available. Throughout our investigation we continued to emphasize that information gathered was preliminary and evolving," the statement said.

But the statement makes it clear that the view has changed, although it does not specify over what period of time that occurred.

Rep. King: U.S. Amb. to U.N. should resign
U.S. intel revises Libya attack assessment
Baer: FBI needs more protection in Libya

"As we learned more about the attack, we revised our initial assessment to reflect new information indicating that it was a deliberate and organized terrorist attack carried out by extremists," according to the statement.

Last week, the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Matt Olsen, described the incident as a terror attack but noted it was not "significantly planned."

His statement came days after U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice described the attack based more on what the intelligence community says is its initial assessment -- that it arose from a protest.

Rep. Peter King, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, on Friday called for Rice to resign, characterizing her comments as "irresponsible" and a "failure of foreign policy message and leadership."

"I think we have to show that there is a price to be paid for such a gross misstatement of reality," he told CNN's Wolf Blitzer on "The Situation Room."

Prior to King's call, Rice's office released a statement defending what she said on Sunday talk shows five days after the attack.

"Ambassador Rice's comments were prefaced at every turn with a clear statement that an FBI investigation was under way that would provide the definitive accounting of the events that took place in Benghazi," spokeswoman Erin Pelton said in that statement.

"At every turn Ambassador Rice provided -- and said she was providing -- the best information and the best assessment that the administration had at the time, based on what was provided to Ambassador Rice and other senior U.S. officials by the U.S. intelligence community."

This week, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he believed the attack was "clearly" conducted by terrorists who planned it, and said that it "took a while" for there to be information to reach such a conclusion.

But on the same day, a senior U.S. official told CNN that within a day or so of the attack, the U.S. intelligence community began to gather information suggesting it was the work of extremists either affiliated with al Qaeda groups or inspired by them.

The timing of when this understanding overtook the initial assessment remains unclear.

"It remains unclear if any group or person exercised overall command and control of the attack, and if extremist group leaders directed their members to participate. However, we do assess that some of those involved were linked to groups affiliated with, or sympathetic to (al Qaeda)," according to the statement from Turner, at the national intelligence office.

"As more information becomes available our analysis will continue to evolve and we will obtain a more complete understanding of the circumstances surrounding the terrorist attack," it read.

Turner said the intelligence community will continue to assist the State Department and FBI in their investigation.

"For its part, the intelligence community will continue to follow the information about the tragic events in Benghazi wherever it leads."